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  • Name: Gigantopithecus (Greek for "giant ape"); prounced jie-GAN-toe-pith-ECK-us
  • Habitat: Woodlands of Asia
  • Historical Epoch: Miocene-Pleistocene (six million to 200,000 years ago)
  • Size and Weight: Up to nine feet tall and 1,000 pounds
  • Diet: Probably omnivorous
  • Distinguishing Characteristics: Large size; large, flat molars; four-footed posture

About Gigantopithecus

The literal 1,000-pound gorilla sitting in the corner of a natural history museum, the appropriately named Gigantopithecus was the largest ape that ever lived, not quite King Kong-sized but, at up to half a ton or so, much bigger than your average lowland gorilla. Or, at least, that's the way this prehistoric primate has been reconstructed; frustratingly, practically everything we know about Gigantopithecus is based on its scattered, fossilized teeth and jaws, which first came to the world's attention when they were sold in Chinese apothecary shops in the first half of the 20th century. Paleontologists aren't even sure how this colossus moved; the consensus is that it must have been a ponderous knuckle-walker, like modern gorillas, but a minority opinion holds that Gigantopithecus may have been capable of walking on its two hind feet.

Another mysterious thing about Gigantopithecus is when, exactly, it lived. Most experts date this ape from Miocene to mid-Pleistocene eastern and southeastern Asia, about six million to one million years B.C., and it may have survived in small populations until as late as 200,000 or 300,000 years ago. Predictably, a small community of cryptozoologists insists that Gigantopithecus never went extinct, and persists in the present day, high up in the Himalayan Mountains, like the mythical Yeti, better known in the west as the Abominable Snowman!

As fearsome as it must have looked, Gigantopithecus seems to have been mostly herbivorous--we can infer from its teeth and jaws that this primate subsisted on fruits, nuts, shoots and, just possibly, the occasional small, quivering mammal or lizard. (The presence of an unusual number of cavities in Gigantopithecus teeth also points to a possible diet of bamboo, much like that of a modern Panda Bear.) Given its size when fully grown, an adult Gigantopithecus would not have been an active target of predation, though the same can't be said for sick, juvenile or aged individuals, which figured on the lunch menu of various tigers, crocodiles, and hyenas.

Gigantopithecus comprises three separate species. The first and largest, G. blacki, lived in southeastern Asia starting in the middle Pleistocene epoch and shared its territory, toward the end of its existence, with various populations of Homo erectus, the immediate precursor of Homo sapiens. The second, G. bilaspurensis, dates to six million years ago, during the Miocene epoch, about the same early time frame as the oddly named G. giganteus, which was only about half the size of its G. blacki cousin.

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Strauss, Bob. "Gigantopithecus." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Strauss, Bob. (2020, August 28). Gigantopithecus. Retrieved from Strauss, Bob. "Gigantopithecus." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 21, 2023).